Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Month: April, 2012

686: Gutenberg by John Man

686.1092: Man, John. Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words. New York: MJF Books, 2002. 292 pp. ISBN 1-56731-743-X.

There are certain cataloguers that would place this book in the 020s, as it could be considered a book on books, but this book is more a biography of a historical person who invented the technology possible to mass-produce books on a scale never seen before. And, Dewey being Dewey, there is a special section for technology related to printing: 686.

Johannes Gutenberg’s life is just tangible enough to warrant a full-length biography, and just sketchy enough to beget a whole society of people who scour archives around Europe trying to find anything they can about him. If it weren’t for his many business dealings (and debts), we wouldn’t have half the information we do now. Born in 1398 to an upper-class merchant family, he grew up around the minting and goldsmithing trades. He is assumed to have studies at the University of Erfurt around 1418. And then he disappears.

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937: Cicero by Anthony Everitt

937.05092: Everitt, Anthony. Cicero: The Life and Time of Rome’s Greatest Politician. New York: Random House, 2003. ISBN 978-0-375-75895-9. 325 pp.

Much like American history, the history of Ancient Rome is rich and varied. 937 (situated in the 930s, containing books on the history of the ancient world) is the section for the ancient history of the Italian Peninsula to 476 CE—everything from the formation of the Roman Republic to its fall almost 1,000 years later.

Anthony Everitt’s Cicero tells the story of Rome through the eyes of its most noted politician. Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in January of 106 BCE to a gentrified family in Arpinum, educated first at a basic school, then sent to apprentice with the leading politicians and lawyers of the day. What we know of Cicero’s life comes from his many writings and correspondence with his friend Atticus.

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069: The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh

069.09753:  Burleigh, Nina. The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 268 pp. ISBN 0-06-000241-7.

Museology is a weird field of study. It is the study of the history and use of museums, but even though it’s an “ology,” it’s not a true science. So, where do you place it? There are those who want to move it to the 300s, seeing as though museums and galleries have an inherently social function. There’s even space open at 308 or 309. BUT, museums are institutions with the expressed purpose of displaying artifacts for the betterment of those who enter them. This sentiment of bettering humankind, while pervasive throughout history, really began in earnest with the creation of scientific and artistic societies, and it was these societies that had the money available to house and maintain such artifacts. As such, museum science gets classed just at the end of the 060s—Associations, organization, and museums.

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519: The Unfinished Game by Keith Devlin

519.2: Devlin, Keith. The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern. New York: Basic Books, 2008. 181 pp. ISBN 978-0-465-00910-7.

Before you can understand science, you have to have a basic working relationship with mathematics, so books on mathematics are placed at the beginning of the 500s (in the 510s to be exact). Since new and exciting mathematical breakthroughs are made every day, this division keeps getting more and more packed with interesting subsections, but section 519 is reserved for probability and applied mathematics.

In 1654, Blaise Pascal, the precocious son of a French tax collector, sent famous mathematician Pierre de Fermat a letter with a proposed solution to an old but still lingering problem. The problem goes thusly:

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307: Company Town by Hardy Green

307.7670973: Green, Hardy. The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills that Shaped the American Economy. New York: Basic Books, 2010. 209 pp. ISBN 978-0-465-01826-0.

The Dewey has a special place for groups of people that come together to achieve a common goal—307. That’s where books on communities are, no matter if it’s a collection on kibbutzim, a plain tome on towns, or a volume on villages.

(Sorry for the alliterative nightmare, but I’m trying to counteract the overall dreariness and drudgery of today’s book.)

Hardy Green’s Company Town centers on American cities that were built by businesses and corporations in order to place their workers in close proximity to the production line. Hundreds of small cities were built across the country to help facilitate factory lines. All the buildings in the town were owned by the parent company—each house, store, hospital, and church. All these buildings cost money, so naturally, the companies found different ways to defray those costs by passing them down to the workers.

The first of these was Lowell, Massachusetts, where Francis Cabot Lowell established the Boston Manufacturing Company in 1813. This company was a textile firm designed to take the raw materials from plant to pants in a single all-purpose building. Around the mill, he and his partners built a town where all the girls who worked there could reside and not have to commute. And this was the general pattern for all such towns to follow. Build a manufacturing or processing center and surround it with a “town” as well as all the necessary amenities.

While this seems like an ideal situation—the company gets close-by workers, and the workers get housing and stores—Green details the inherent tendency toward exploitation in these arrangements. Since the company built the stores and the churches, the prices and taxes due to those establishments were controlled by the company and not by a separate town council. Prices in company stores were generally higher than the regular outside market, and many workers were paid in currency that could only be redeemed at the company store. If you didn’t have the funds, the store would issue you “scrip”, basically an IOU which the employee had to work off before getting paid again.

This isn’t to say that some company towns weren’t better than others. The most notable of these is Hershey, Pennsylvania, a cloyingly sweet town where Milton Hershey provided everything he could for his workers. Many of his establishments still exist. The theme park he built for his workers is now open to the public, and the private boarding school (his wife’s idea) still serves 1,800 students in need these days.

The book itself, though, is rather cumbersome (but not thick). The language is stilted and much of the history is rote and dry. This could have been a rather interesting look into the lives of workers in company towns, but Green doesn’t have the chops to pull it all together. The tone of the book is predominantly anti-big-business. You can tell that even if the towns themselves aren’t explicitly exploitative, Green still digs to find malfeasance at some level. Don’t get me wrong—on the whole, many of these villages were wildly under-regulated and came perilously close to indentured servitude, but many towns now owe their existence to the foresight of the company owners who built them. The other quibble I have with the book is that Wikipedia is used as a primary citation for some of the facts. Sorry folks, but this is still unacceptable. If you want a quick read, this will work in a pinch, but don’t waste too much time on this one.

891: A Treatise on Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz

891.8: Milosz, Czeslaw. A Treatise on Poetry. New York: Ecco Press, 2001. 125 pp. ISBN 0-06-018524-4.

The fact that literature from areas of the world not named Europe or the United States all get crushed into the 890s is both a shame and a blessing. It’s a shame because all “non-Western” literatures have a uniqueness and truth to offer. From Iranian literature to Japanese literature to Nigerian literature to Russian literature, we can get a wondrous and varied sense of being from those very much removed from ourselves and our cultures. It’s a blessing because Dewey section 891 is for East Indio-European and Celtic literatures, and if I didn’t have this interesting and slim volume of Polish poetry, I would have to read War and Peace to satisfy this section, and that scared the bejesus out of me.

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999: Other Worlds by Michael Lemonick

999: Lemonick, Michael D. Other Worlds: The Search for Life in the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. 255 pp. ISBN 0-684-83294-1.

At the very, very, very end of the Dewey Decimal Classification, you will find 999. The 900s are history and geography, and the 990s include history of other parts of the world. Normally, this would mean history of Australia and tiny island nations, but the last section—section 999—is reserved for the history of extraterrestrial worlds.

The only problem with writing about the history of extraterrestrial worlds is we have neither met any organism from another planet nor received any transmission from another planetary system. So, Michael Lemonick’s Other Worlds focuses on how Earth’s inhabitants are trying to find planets outside the Solar System.

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